Evil Robots!!!

More often than not, the robot comes to us in the movies as a villain.   However, an examination of these so called evil robots reveals that the evil robots are not always as evil as they appear. Take for instance, five movie robots, starting at the beginning with Fritz Lang’s “Maschinenmensch” or “Machine Man” from 1927’s Metropolis.

 

As background, the Machine Man was developed by the mad scientist Rotwang as tool of revenge.  Rotwang uses it to incite violence and chaos.  While the Machine Man is clearly used for evil purposes, it could be argued that if it were programmed not to obey a mad scientist but rather to, say, help old ladies cross the street, we wouldn’t think of it as an evil robot.  Clearly that would make for a very boring movie.  Let’s move on.

 

Certainly HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) qualifies as an evil robot – right?  It’s even listed in AFI’s ‘100 years” series as one of the top villains in movie history.  But is HAL really evil?  In order to complete its mission, to trace the signal being projected by the Monolith, it decides to eliminate all obstacles (in this case the humans).  But is HAL’s mission and the resulting evolutionary progress for mankind worth the lives of the two cranky astronauts?  If you argue yes, than HAL is not evil at all.  Machiavellian perhaps, but not evil.

 

Certainly the Machines from the Matrix (1999) are evil right?  After all they enslave humanity to either a lifetime of being plugged into a video game or eating gruel and fighting the machines in an endless war.  But this line of thought conveniently forgets that the humans built the machines to enslave them, and then tried to destroy them all with nuclear weapons (forgetting, apparently, that nuclear weapons would destroy everything else too).  Also, it appears all life on Earth has been obliterated except for the humans, so the machines and their massive game are the only things keeping the humans alive.

 

Certainly Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) is evil right?  After all he tries to destroy humanity.  And just look at him in the poster!  He’s kidnapping a scantily clad woman!  How evil is that?!? That’s a very human-centric way of thinking about it though.  Apparently the other civilizations in the galaxy don’t like our penchant for violent conflict and want to preemptively take us out a potential threat.  Unfair, perhaps, but to them, not especially evil.

 

Finally!  Megatron (Transformers (2007)) is definitely evil!  It’s actually pretty hard to argue against this, partly because Michael Bay’s “films” have about as much subtlety as a jackhammer.

Anyway that’s enough evil robots for today!

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

The Essentials

Sometimes I get asked for movie recommendations.  I like to take that one step further – in my opinion there are ten films that are essential to understanding the development of the modern movie, from Oscars contenders to summer blockbusters to independent and foreign films.  In order of date, here goes:

Battleship Potemkin (1925, Russia, Director: Sergei Eisenstein)

For much of the first half of the twentieth century, Battleship Potemkin was consistently ranked in surveys as the “greatest film of all time.”  It wasn’t the first propaganda film or the first film to use montages to tell its story.  But it was the first combine these techniques effectively to influence audiences.  It is an important film to see because if you understand its elements and its techniques you will know when the filmmaker is trying to manipulate you.

Metropolis (1927, Germany, Director: Fritz Lang)

It was difficult to imagine how Metropolis’ reputation could be enhanced until a nearly complete reel of the film was discovered a few years ago.  The nearly complete version, once thought lost forever, cements Metropolis as not only the first great science fiction film but also the first film to resemble modern Hollywood blockbusters.  It is debatable, but with Metropolis the first era of film-making may have reached its full potential.

Citizen Kane (1941, US, Director: Orson Welles)

While viewing the Venus de Milo in Paris, I learned that it isn’t considered a masterpiece merely because of its form and detail, but because it was sculpted hundreds of years before those techniques were thought to be invented.  Citizen Kane is similar in that it is the first film to embrace the sense of realism that we take for granted in every film we see today, and it was not widely seen until years after it was first released.  The list of innovations that Orson Welles introduced in the film is summarized by Roger Ebert in a 2004 article entitled “A Viewer’s Companion to Citizen Kane” ((c) 2004 rogerebert.com).

Bicycle Thieves (1948, Italy, Director: Vittorio De Sica)

Italian Neorealism is possibly the most influential movement in the history of cinema.  Simply put, films such as Bicycle Thieves present fictional stories in a way that makes them feel like documentaries.  De Sica’s masterpiece was the first film of the movement to earn widespread international acclaim, and it went on to influence dozens of realism movements in other countries.

Rashomon (1950, Japan, Director: Akira Kurosawa)

“They say that even the demon who dwelt here at Rashomon fled in fear of the ferocity of man.”  Rashomon was the first of Kurosawa’s films to become popular outside of his native Japan.  It is most notable for Kurosawa’s fragmented, unresolved story and his use of natural effects to establish mood and move the story along.  While almost any Kurosawa film could be considered essential viewing, Rashomon is one of his shorter films and a good place to start exploring his catalog.

Pather Panchali (1955, India, Director: Satyajit Ray)

In the first film of Ray’s Apu Trilogy, Ray takes realism to its logical conclusion.  There is very little “plot” in Pather Panchali, instead the viewer is pulled along by authentic emotion and unforgettable images.  Its importance stems from the fact that it was one of the first films to come out of the developing world that rose to international acclaim, and by doing so inspired filmmakers across the world.

Psycho (1960, US, Director: Alfred Hitchcock)

The more movies people see, the more they think they know what to expect.  The brilliance of Psycho comes from its defying of audience expectations in a visceral and horrifying manner.  While it could be said that Hitchcock wrote many of the rules for plot development in Hollywood films, Psycho broke through those conventions so completely that it changed our perception of what movies could get away with.

Breathless (1960, France, Director: Jean Luc Godard)

Much has been written about the French New Wave and the film regarded by some as “the French Citizen Kane.”  After all, the conventional film had been done so well, and with such compelling back-story with 1945’s Children of Paradise that its young filmmakers were left with really no place to go except to invent an entirely new style of film.  Simply put, the French New Wave is why shots are shorter and movies are faster paced than they used to be, and Breathless is the film that started it all.

Persona (1966, Sweden, Director: Ingmar Bergman)

Bergman once said that he put all of his skills as a filmmaker to work in Persona, and the result is one of the most powerful and thought provoking films ever made.  If you describe what Persona is about based on the plot alone, it may be difficult to get someone interested in seeing the film.  After all, there are only two characters in most of the film, one of which barely speaks.  However, the film isn’t about these characters, but the dark recesses of our own minds.  Persona isn’t a film so much as it a mirror.

The Godfather (1972, US, Director: Francis Ford Coppola)

While Citizen Kane is the most important American film, The Godfather is the best constructed.  The writing, acting, production, cinematography, directing, and every other element of the film is so well done that only the most nit-picky of critics can find weaknesses.   This is what a film looks like when all of its elements are firing on all cylinders, and it is a good a place as any to bring our list to a close.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

Top Ten – Comedy Ensembles

The comedy ensemble is the direct descendant of Vaudeville, which is what people went to go see before there were movies.  Groups of performers would tour the country and deliver to their adoring public a cavalcade of random music, comedy, drama, and pretty much anything they could think of that wouldn’t get tomatoes thrown at them.  Among these groups, the most popular were often the comedy teams.

Here are my top ten comedy ensembles from the movies, based on influence and creativity.   The definition of a comedy ensemble for purposes of this list are: at least three people including directors, at least two of which appear in at least two different movies of the same style.  The ensemble has to be represented in at least four movies total.  Sequels involving the same characters or an extension of the same plot do not count. “Double Acts” do not count either.

10.  “The Frat Pack” (Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, Christine Taylor) Movies:  Zoolander (2001), Old School (2003), Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004), Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy (2004), Wedding Crashers (2004).

The first entry on our list is the ill-defined “Frat Pack” of the early 2000’s.  For purposes of this list, I’m not counting the Wes Anderson or Judd Apatow pieces that some consider part of this particular set.  Also, I don’t particularly care for the name “Frat Pack” since I feel as though it’s a bit pejorative (Ben Stiller is on record as agreeing).  Besides, it’s an allusion to the Rat Pack, and these actors did not collaborate as closely as the Rat Pack did by their own admission.

So why such a recent group on the list?  The “R” rated comedy ensemble film had been a lost art since the early 1980’s, and this group is responsible for a revival of that form.  Also, the quality writing of these films is reflected in the fact that they are quoted in casual conversation more often than any films released in the last ten years.

9. The Hawkes/Cukor/Capra Screwball Comedy Actors (Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, James Stewart, Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Rosalind Russell, Jean Arthur) Films: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Bringing Up Baby (1938), Holiday (1938), You Can’t Take it With You (1938), His Girl Friday (1940), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Ball of Fire (1941), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944).

The Screwball Comedies of the late 1930’s and early 1940’s featured some of the most talented actors of the Hollywood Golden Age.  The films of Howard Hawkes, George Cukor, and Frank Capra stand apart as the finest works of this genre. These three directors cast their best works from the same pool of actors, and in doing so, organically created a loosely connected comedy ensemble.

What is a Screwball Comedy?  A fast paced, witty, usually romantic comedy usually involving a battle of the sexes or class conflict.  While modern romantic comedies are not as absurd as their screwball ancestors tended to be, almost any romantic comedy you see today can be traced back to these films that contained some combination of the actors listed above, and almost always Cary Grant.

8. “The Road Movies” Ensemble (Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamar) Films: The Road to Singapore (1940), The Road to Zanzibar (1941), The Road to Morocco (1942), The Road to Utopia (1946), The Road to Rio (1947), The Road to Bali (1952), the Road to Hong Kong (1962).

As soon as there were movies, there were movies making fun of other movies. The logical extension of the Hollywood golden age was a series of films starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamar called “The Road Movies.”  The plot didn’t matter, the script was often improvised, and none of Hollywood’s finest achievements were sacred.

The popularity of the Road movies opened up the doors for other satires.  From the good (Blazing Saddles (1974), Airplane (1980), The Naked Gun (1988), South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut (1999)) to the bad, these movies owe a great debt to to Road movies.  And the best part is that the three principals were pretty much just goofing off the entire time.

7. The Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, Joey Bishop) Films: Ocean’s 11 (1960), Sergeants 3 (1962), 4 for Texas (1963), Marriage on the Rocks (1965), The Cannonball Run (1981).

Were the Rat Pack really a comedy ensemble?  Probably not in the purest sense, since comedy was often third or fourth on their agenda after chasing tail, drinking, and music.  The name itself was coined by Humphrey Bogart to describe his 1950’s Hollywood drinking club.  Sinatra’s 1960’s group called themselves “the Summit,” but thanks to the media, the Rat Pack name stuck to their group rather than Boggie’s (although there were several common members, like Sinatra himself).

The Rat Pack are remembered as cool first and foremost – even at Dean Martin’s most drunken and incoherent.  The style itself was more prominent in their off-screen endeavors than their films.  Still, if it wasn’t for the films that style wouldn’t have reached such a wide audience,  and may not have become the definitive combination of comedy and cool.

6. Mel Brooks’ Ensemble (Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Cloris Leachman, Madeline Kahn, Dom Deluise, Gene Wilder) Films: The Producers (1968), Blazing Saddles (1974), The Young Frankenstein (1974), Silent Movie (1976), High Anxiety (1977), History of the World, Part 1 (1981).

Mel Brooks is one of the funniest people ever to get behind, or in front of, a camera.  He is a master of satire, timing, and dialogue.  Admittedly, his humor often comes from a dark place, but shows us that the best way to disarm a monster is to drag it out into the open, put it in tights, and make it into an object of ridicule.

In several of his earliest films, he assembled a brilliant cast that brought his hilarious vision to life.  Where did he find these brilliant people?  You’d have to ask him – but by finding them and putting them together he created a type of comedy where nothing is sacred, nothing is off limits, and there are absolutely no rules.

5. The Three Stooges (Moe Howard, Curly Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard, Joe Besser, Joe “Curly Joe” DeRita) Films: Over 220 Films between 1934 and 1975

In the 1920’s, two brothers, Moe and Curly Howard, and their friend Larry Fine joined a Vaudeville act led called “Ted Healy and his Stooges.”  By 1933 they had their own film contract with MGM.  The rest is history.  Even three decades after the deaths of Moe Howard and Larry Fine, the act is still a staple of Sunday morning syndication and still has legions of fans.

So what has made the Three Stooges the most enduring ensemble in all of American comedy?  The short, simple storylines focusing on slapstick comedy are certainly part of the reason, as the Stooges’ antics provide a quick and funny escape from daily life.  Their mastery of the quick, funny, and basic slapstick routine inspired unnumbered masters of physical comedy, and continue to do so today.

4. Monty Python (John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin)  Films: And Now for Something Completely Different (1971), Monty Python and Holy Grail (1974), Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (1979), Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983).

And now for something completely different.  For a long time Hollywood thought that Americans would never like British comedy.  It is too dry, too goofy, they said.  Boy were they wrong.  Soon after “And Now for Something Completely Different,” a compilation of greatest hits from their television series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” started touring American college campuses, the Pythons became one of the most popular comedy teams of all time.

The Pythons’ most notable features are their goofy, often dark, usually dry, comedy. Like the work of Mel Brooks around the same time, their work infused an anything-goes style of comedy that was lacking in Hollywood, albeit from a different perspective.  The influence of their comedy can especially be seen in popular television shows such as “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy.”

3.  The National Lampoon Radio Hour Team/Original Cast of Saturday Night Live (John Belushi, Chevy Chase, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, John Landis (Director)) Films: National Lampoon’s Animal House (1979),  The Blues Brothers (1980), Caddyshack (1980),  Stripes (1981), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Ghostbusters (1984). 

The popularity of Saturday Night Live, and some of the most beloved comedies of the 1980’s can be credited to a team that started working together on the National Lampoon Radio Hour, a syndicated radio series created by the staff of National Lampoon Magazine.  The Radio Hour became a feeder during the early years of SNL, which launched the film careers of this team, most of whom remain household names and working actors today.

The success of this ensemble helped turn SNL, and its feeder system of New York and Chicago comedy clubs, into a pipeline to fame for dozens of comedic actors.  Certainly many more individuals behind the scenes have made this possible, and I only named the some members of this ensemble who created the films listed above.  Indeed, the rich collection of talents that this process has brought to the American public over the last three decades is far too numerous to name here.

2. The Muppets (Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great, Rowlf the Dog, Scooter, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, et. al.)  Films: The Muppet Movie (1979), The Great Muppet Caper (1981), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Muppets from Space (1999), The Muppets (2011).

For many of us, the Muppets brought us our first experience with performed comedy.  But the genius of Jim Henson and his team’s creation is that it appeals to both adults and children.  As is standard, I have listed the Muppet characters, but men and women behind the Muppets are just as important, although like their creations, too numerous to list here.

The Pixar movies, the Shrek Movies, and anything else that adults and children both enjoy owes a debt of thanks to the Muppets.  That of course isn’t to say that the Muppets can take sole credit for the popularity of their successors (although I’m sure Miss Piggy would beg to disagree).  But the popularity of their style of humor certainly has built an entire floor above their predecessors.

1. The Marx Brothers (Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo Marx) Films: 15 Films between 1921 and 1949 including Animal Crackers (1930), Duck Soup (1933), A Night at the Opera (1935), and A Night in Casablanca (1946).

In 1912, a family Vaudeville act was interrupted by a loud, braying mule.  Annoyed that the audience had turned their attention from the stage to the suffering animal, one of the performers started cracking a series of jokes at the audience’s expense.  Instead of throwing various fruits and vegetables at the stage, the audience absolutely loved it.  The performer’s name was Julius Henry Marx, better known to posterity as Groucho Marx, and he and his brothers would go on to change the nature of comedy in the United States forever.

I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that none of the other ensembles on this list, with the possible exception of Monty Python, would have become what they became if it weren’t for the path cleared by the Marx Brothers.  Certainly individual comedy was already extremely popular in the movies by 1930, but it was their ensemble comedy that first demonstrated the potential of what a group of comedians, working together, could produce on the screen.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

Why We Love Bad Movies – Epilogue

So I’ve come to the end of my series on bad movies.  At the beginning of this process, I stated that this final section would be about movies with no redeeming value whatsoever.  As I wrote more and more about bad movies and spoke to people about the articles, I began to realize that no matter how bad some movies may be, they still have redeeming qualities.

Don’t get me wrong, that bizarre video your watched on YouTube last week with the sexy sax man or the one with the dramatic squirrel are not movies.  Television programs, even the best ones, are not movies either (although movies and television programs have their similarities).  A movie is intended to be watched in one sitting from beginning to end, usually in a theater.  A movie, whether fictional or factual, asks us to forget that we’re in a theater or on the couch, and asks us to imagine that we’re someplace that it wants to take us instead.

In the end a movie has to convince us to follow it where it’s going.  Good movies entertain us by persuading us to escape our reality for a few hours.  Great movies challenge us to question our reality.

Bad movies are tired troubadours on hopeless campaigns.  They certainly fail to challenge us and usually fail to entertain us.  But they never fail to inspire us to imagine improvements, and the worst of them never fail to make us laugh.  And that is why we love bad movies.

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

Why We Love Bad Movies – Part Three: Genre Cliches

Sometimes we go to the movies not to be challenged, but to be entertained and comforted.  Genre cliches, movies that are about the same no matter what, that meet our expectations but never exceed them, are the comfort food of movies.  We know that they are not particularly good, but we go back to them anyway.  They are familiar, predictable, and we know exactly what we’re getting.  Observe:

Salisbury Steak (Romantic Comedies)

e.g. New Year’s Eve (2011), You’ve Got Mail (1998)

There are plenty of great romantic comedies, but it seems like most of them are cobbled together from hamburger to resemble a superior product.  For example, New Year’s Eve is a cheap copy of a better movie (Love, Actually (2003)).  You’ve Got Mail has the same leading actors and same plot of a better movie (Sleepless in Seattle (1993)).  Here’s the clincher – everyone knew this going in, and both of these films made a ton of money at the box office.

Twinkees (Musicals)

e.g. Spiceworld (1997), From Justin to Kelly (2003)

The Musical is a genre that has fallen out of favor in modern Hollywood.  Before the days of television (music videos especially), they were frequently either star vehicles or showcases for Vaudeville style acts.  While some musicals remain popular for various reasons (Singin’ in the Rain (1952), West Side Story (1961), White Christmas (1954), The Wizard of Oz (1939)), many feel dated – like someone cobbled something edible together from sponge cake and filling.

But pre-television musicals have an excuse.  Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) for instance seems dated now but it served its purpose as a showcase for Judy Garland’s talent and brought it to a wide audience during an era when people needed an escape.  Poorly thought-out modern musicals have no excuse, and serve as long, ill conceived, music videos for flash in the pan artists (Spiceworld) or popular televisions shows (From Justin to Kelly).

Kung Pow Chicken (Action Movies)

e.g. Faster (2010), Battlefield Earth (2000)

Sometimes we like something a little spicier.  Yeah it’s fried and bad for us, but it’s so cheap, tasty, and here in twenty minutes.  Yes we’ll be hungry again in half an hour, but it’s great while it lasts.  While there have been excellent, popular, purely escapist action films, some are filled with terrible dialogue, boring car chases, and plots that make absolutely no logical sense.  Watch Faster and you’ll see what I mean.

Watch Battlefield Earth and you’ll see even worse.  It makes Faster look like Citizen Kane (1941).

Jello (Comedies)

e.g. Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo (2005), Every “____ Movie” after the original Scary Movie (2000)

Want something kind of light and a little gross?  The gross-out comedy genre has what you’re looking for.  It’s too bad that whenever Hollywood has a decent idea for an R-rated comedy, they dump a horrendous sequel on us.  Sometimes the sequels have at least some redeeming value, but sometimes the first movie wasn’t that good to begin with (Deuce Bigalow) or it’s another of a seemingly endless parade of “Scary Movie” style parody films.

Vodka (Horror)

e.g. The Saw Films (2004-2010), Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

Horror movies are the empty calorie, escapist, cash-cow of the movies always have been, and probably always will be.  They’re cheap to make (Saw), easy to pump our sequel after sequel (Saw), and always end up making a decent amount of money (Saw).

The problem is that the horror movie genre ends up looking far easier than it is.  This is what inspired a New Mexico insurance salesman to create a “horror movie” that may be the worst film every released in a movie theater – Manos: The Hands of Fate.

Next time: Epilogue – Movies with No Redeeming Value

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

 

Why We Love Bad Movies – Part Two: Failed Blockbusters

We, the American public, are in an unhealthy relationship with the Hollywood Blockbuster.  As a crazed songstress who enjoys getting drunk and thrown out of baseball games in her spare time might put it…actually no. I’m not going there.

A great blockbuster has the ability to entertain us again and again like no other genre of film.  The best ones are mainstays of our movie collections – the ones that we upgrade from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray to Digital.  The worst ones, well that’s another story.  They often make lame excuses for their transgressions, but we keep coming back.  Here are some of them…

But baby, I give you what you need

e.g. Transformers (2007), Armageddon (1998), Independence Day (1996)

Sometimes we just want to turn our brains off and watch things explode.  The more explosions the better.  If recognizable buildings are destroyed (Independence Day), fantastic.  Or if the explosions are caused by giant robots trying to kill each other (Transformers), that’s pretty great.  Also if the explosions are caused by asteroids (Armageddon), asteroids are fun right?  Boom!!!!!!!

Is there anything wrong with our insatiable desire for explosions?  I don’t know.  Even if we secretly wish the human protagonist would get stomped by Megatron, we keep coming back for more.

But baby it was so great the first time

e.g. Star Wars Episode I (1999), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997),  The Matrix Reloaded (2003), Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), The Godfather Part III (1990)

Remember those blockbusters I mentioned in the intro?  The ones you absolutely love and can’t get enough of? Well sometimes the sequels don’t pan out so well.

Whether it is caused by misguided megalomania (Episode I), a director who’s just trying to make a quick buck (The Lost World), or failure to understand what made the original movie so popular (Matrix Reloaded), sequels often fall short of the glory of the first film. This seems to be especially the case when a lot of time has passed between films (Crystal Skull and Godfather 3).  But that’s okay, if they make a third one it’ll be better, right?

But baby you love this, don’t you remember?

e.g. Transformers 2 (2009), The Matrix Revolutions (2003),Pirates of the Caribbean 3 (2007)

Wrong!  We know it’s going to be bad because the first movie was bad (Transformers), the second movie was bad (Matrix Revolutions), or the second movie was lackluster (Pirates of the Caribbean 3).  But we really hope it’s better.  It’s gotta be better, right?

It won’t be, but we want to see what happens next, and, when we are inevitably disappointed we want to commiserate with everyone and complain about how bad that third movie was.  In a perverse way, I think we like these movies more – we can endlessly pick apart how we could have done a better job.  After all, movie lovers probably spend more hours picking apart disappointing films than praising great ones.

But baby, I’ve changed

e.g. Transformers 3 (2011), The Incredible Hulk (2003), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007)

Sometimes the sequels will have a cast change (Hulk), a promise from the director that this time it’ll be better (Transformers 3), or a more promising storyline (Fantastic Four 2).  But alas, we’re fooled again.  We’re pretty sad at this point but…

Enough!

e.g. Speed 2 (1997), Godzilla (1998), Batman and Robin (1997), Gigli (2003)

Oh you may entice us with basically the same storyline, but on a boat! (Speed 2)  You may woo us with promises of iconic monsters! (Godzilla) You may even try to slake our endless lust for celebrity couples (Gigli) or the promise of endless snow and ice puns (Batman and Robin)!  But this ends now!  I’m not paying $8 to see that and I don’t care what you say!

Epilogue

At the end of the day, the blockbuster is an easy genre to churn out summer after summer, but a difficult one to master.  I really don’t regret a couple hours away from air conditioning in the summer to enjoy some popcorn though.  I like being in on the conversation when those movies misfire.  And I like to make fun of these movies on DVD later.  Not every blockbuster is going to be Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), or The Dark Knight (2008).  And I’m actually okay with that.

Next Time: Part 3: Genre Cliches

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

Why We Love Bad Movies – Part One: Poorly Made Films

Why We Love Bad Movies – Part One: Poorly Made Films

There are some bad movies that are worth your time, if you’re in the right frame of mind of course.  They are just poorly constructed.  B-Movies, Cult Classics, and crap that absolutely can’t be defined in any conceivable way can be a valuable part of our movie experience. Quentin Tarantino, for instance, is a notable proponent of the Poorly Made category, and if that horrible “my first movie experience” montage at the Oscars this year has any redeeming value, it at least goes to show that the movie stars we pay to see often have the same crappy taste in movies that everyone else does.  Let’s break down this category into the aforementioned sub-categories:

A) B-Movies 

e.g. Robot Monster (1953), The Killer Shrews (1959)

When I first explained the classic TV series “Mystery Science Theater 3000” to my parents, my dad responded, “Oh, those were the crappy movies at the drive-in that no one stuck around for.”  Often shot on a shoestring budget and in two weeks or less, B Movies were a staple of the Hollywood Studio System and kept fake blood manufacturers, costume shops with poor supply chains, and horrible singer after horrible singer employed in Southern California until the 1980’s.  While television rendered the double feature obsolete, it also rescued the B Movie genre from the dustbin with its endless, succubus-like need to fill hour upon hour of dead air with schlock.  Even the old B Movies were saved to a certain extent by MST3K by becoming objects of endless humor.

We love B Movies because we can’t take them seriously, but they were thrown together so fast that I doubt the filmmakers really cared one way or the other.  For instance,  can anyone be expected to take an “alien” seriously that is clearly a guy dressed in a gorilla suit with a diving helmet on (Robot Monster), or a “monster” that is clearly a dog with some stuff glued on it (The Killer Shrews)?  Of course you can’t – but it’s so ridiculous that it’s funny.

B) Bad Cult Classics

e.g. Reefer Madness (1936), Showgirls (1995),

They’re so bad they’re good.  Usually a bad cult classic develops a following because it does something it wasn’t supposed to.  The term “Cult Classic” can also be applied to brilliant but overlooked films like Blade Runner (1982) or Office Space (1996) which flopped at the box office but became popular later.  Those aren’t the movies I’m talking about.

Take Reefer Madness for example.  Here was a film that was designed to teach teenagers the terrors of marijuana use, but it was so over the top that it became a favorite of, guess what, marijuana users.  Showgirls was actually an honest attempt at serious drama, but instead inspired endless laughter and almost as many drinking games.  These films are different from B Movies because the makers of the films actually spent some time on them, and but they did such a crappy job anyway that the movies did the exact opposite of what was intended.

C) Total Crap

e.g. Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

These may be the worst-made movies of all time.  They’re so bad that I had to separate them from the other two categories. Maybe there’s a obvious attempt to replace an actor who passed away halfway through production (Plan 9), or maybe it contains an endless montage of empty landscape and an antagonist who gets massaged to death (Manos).  Whatever the case, it seems that chimpanzees could be trained to make better movies than these.

By any objective standards these films fail in every conceivable way.  But we love them anyway.  Is it the the fact that we can sit down with a group and make joke after joke at their expense? Does it take a special, morbid talent to fail so spectacularly? Or is it simply because we could probably make better movies ourselves?  Who knows, but more importantly, who cares?  Just sit back and enjoy the train wreck!

Next Post: Failed Blockbusters

(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe

 

 

LazySundayMovies

Review-commendations

WritingSuzanne

Film. Television. Books. Beauty. Words.

My Filmviews

- Movieblog

The Entertainment Blur

Movies, Music, Television, and so much more.